School Board

Halifax County School Board members, who were socially distanced in the Halifax County Middle School cafeteria, hear safety plans as they prepare for students in grades pre-K through third Feb. 2 return to face-to-face instruction.

With pre-K through third grade students set to return to a hybrid schedule with face-to-face instruction and distanced learning on Feb. 2, Halifax County School Board heard the plan for the schedule and safety measures when they met Monday evening.

Director of Elementary Education Lisa Long explained to the board that parents would have the option to allow students to return to face-to-face instruction or continue with fully distance learning.

For those who choose the hybrid model with face-to-face instruction and distanced learning, parents will be notified on Jan. 19 to let them know if their child will be attending on A day or B day, said Long.

Siblings will attend on the same day, she added.

“Feb. 2 is an exciting day for teachers as we welcome our pre-K through third grade students back in our buildings,” the director of elementary education said.

Those on A day will attend face-to-face instruction Mondays and Wednesdays while Zooming on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while B day students will be flipped.

Long also said teachers will Zoom daily for reading and math for all pre-K through third grade students.

“We’re still participating in Zoom daily. The only difference is where you are,” said Long.

While the teacher work day will be 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Long explained that students will only be in the building from 8:40 to 1:30, except for South Boston Elementary which will let out at 12:30 due to sharing buses with Halifax County High School and Halifax County Middle School.

When students are in the school buildings, Long said they will be with teachers and support staff for the whole group instruction and/or small groups for remediation.

Desks in classrooms are spaced out six feet apart, said Long, and teaches, staff and students, when medically and developmentally appropriate, will be required to wear a face covering unless eating or exercising.

Long noted that students will have physical education. She also said they will be served breakfast and lunch with meals being sent to the classrooms.

Afternoon hours for teachers will be used for office hours to call students/parents, Zoom one on one with students or small groups, making packets for students without internet, recording videos, participating in individuals education plan or 501 meetings and planning, Long explained.

ED-2 trustee Roy Keith Lloyd asked about class size, and Long said it would vary school to school.

Superintendent Dr. Mark Lineburg said he envisioned roughly 6 to 8 students with 10 being the max.

“We’d like to get confidence in what we’re doing and get more kids back in school,” he added.

Transportation

Transportation Director Dwight Elam, director of operations and maintenance Steve Brumfield and school nurse coordinator Tina Slabach also outlined back-to-school safety measures.

Elam said students would have to maintain social distancing at community bus stops where large numbers of students wait for the bus and while on the bus.

He explained that seating that will promote social distancing will be marked with decals, and students boarding the bus will be seated back to front.

“This will prevent students from walking past other students,” the transportation director explained.

He also noted that once on the bus, students will not be allowed to move to another seat.

Seating will be one student per seat, except for siblings, and all students and drivers will be required to wear a face covering, Elam added.

Drivers will disinfect buses and cars after each run with a CDC certified disinfectant, said Elam, and if a bus has multiple runs, the driver must disinfect prior to the second run.

He also said drivers may use disinfectant bombs each Friday to sanitize the buses. The transportation director said they’ve also ordered a couple of battery-operated foggers that should arrive by the end of the week to see if that would be a better option.

Elam also said drivers will be responsible for cleaning and disinfecting while paying attention to handrails, tops and edges of seats, dash and control panels and steering wheels. He also noted that child safety seats and safety restraints would be included in the disinfection process in special needs vehicles.

Health/nursing

In speaking about health measures, Slabach told the board that staff members have a home symptom check they complete via Google Docs and have temperature checks upon arrival.

Students and visitors will have their temperature checked before entering the school buildings, said Slabach, and visitors will be limited to “essential visitors” that will be determined by administration of each building.

As far as nurse visits, Slabach said minor issues such as paper cuts and scant nosebleeds will be handled in the classroom, and teachers will notify the nurse prior to sending the student to the clinic unless an emergency.

She also noted that medicine would be distributed by the nurse in the classroom.

If a student has COVID-like symptoms, Slabach said they will be sent to the isolation room where there will be strict social distancing, and students will be supervised directly by an individual determined by the principal. That individual, Slabach said, will have personal protection equipment such as face shield, surgical mask and gloves.

If a positive COVID-19 case is determined within a school, the school nurse coordinator said they would notify Virginia Department of Health and follow their lead.

Contacts, which will likely be an entire classroom, will be quarantined for 14 days, said Slabach, and nurses will contact trace in buildings. Depending on the size of the outbreak, Slabach said they might need to close the building for a short time.

The school nurse coordinator noted that they would not be able to reveal who tested positive.

She also said if someone develops symptoms while in quarantine, they could be quarantined longer than 14 days, and that will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

The head nurse also gave a health update saying the county’s positivity rate had improved to 8.6%. On Dec. 2, it was 11.7%.

She also said the county has had 319.5 positive cases per 100,000 persons within the last 14 days.

Since returning to school, Slabach said they’ve had 24 employees test positive, and currently have 24 out due to isolation or quarantine. Three employees are awaiting test results. So far a total of 38 employees have tested negative, since September. 

Maintenance and custodial

The director of operations and maintenance said a “huge part in making sure the buildings are safe for students is cleaning and disinfecting.”

He said students, teachers and staff need to “work as a team” to maintain physical distancing and educating on hygiene etiquette.

To help educate students, signs about maintaining six feet and hand washing have been placed in all the schools.

As far as custodial responsibilities, Brumfield said they would adjust cleaning scheduled to whatever is appropriate and disinfect high traffic areas such as lobby, library, restrooms and hallways daily as well as surfaces and objects that are touched often.

Custodians also have been using electrostatic misters to disinfect large areas such as gym, cafeteria and hallways, and Brumfield said they would continue to do so.

Hand sanitation stands have been placed in high traffic areas, and Brumfield said they would empty the trash as often as possible.

As far as maintenance responsibilities, Brumfield said his staff would clean and/or replace all air filters to HVAC systems.

He also is ensuring custodians have proper cleaning supplies, equipment, chemicals and personal protective equipment while training them on the best practices for cleaning.

Brumfield said they’re asking teachers and staff to keep classrooms and offices clean and clutter to a minimum and use water and soap or disinfectant spray to wipe down high touched areas.

The director of operations and maintenance also suggested using the PA system to educate students daily on information regarding ways to reduce the spread of the coroanvirus.

Taking a moment to speak directly to students, Brumfield said they should help keep desks and leaning spaces clean, keep physical distance to six feet, wear a face covering, follow hand hygiene and cough/sneeze etiquette and notify their teacher immediately if they’re feeling ill.

Chairman and ED-6 trustee Todd Moser asked Elam, Slabach and Brumfield if they have everything they need to ensure the safety of students.

Brumfield said he is noticing they’re moving through masks and gloves quickly, but he said he has enough sanitizer to get through next year.

Elam said they need more foggers, which cost $184 a piece.

ED-7 trustee Keith McDowell said they should have received the foggers, and ED-4 trustee Jay Camp asked about the life span of a fogger.

McDowell said if a fogger is kept clean, it could last “indefinitely.”

Lloyd also asked Lineburg how involved he was in the safety measures.

Lineburg said he has “very involved,” adding that he talks to Brumfield, Slabach and Elam two or three times a week.

“I’m really confident in our procedures,” he added.

If numbers continue to improve, grades 4,5,6 and 9 are to be considered for their return next and then grades 7, 8, 10, 11 and 12.

Ashley Hodge is the editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com

Ashley Hodge is the editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com